Security, Esteem, & Power

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 — Week of Proper 20

Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, 1626

Wilson Carlile, Priest, 1942

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)

Psalms 119:97-120 (morning) 81, 82 (evening)

Esther 6:1-14 or Judith 10:1-23

Acts 19:1-20

Luke 4:1-13

I chose to read from Judith

Luke’s story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness speaks of the temptations that face all of us.

Security: Jesus is famished after forty days of fasting. The devil tempts him to abandon his reliance upon God alone and to feed himself by an act of magic. Jesus raises his vision beyond his physical needs and beyond his feelings of threatened security — “One does not live by bread alone.”

Esteem: The devil shows Jesus the glory of all the kingdoms of the world and offers it to Jesus. He can have the whole world at his feet if he will only give his worship to the devil — give highest worth to something created rather than to the divine. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him,” answers Jesus, keeping his loyalty to the mysterious and free God.

Power: Quoting the Bible, the devil offers Jesus the angelic powers for his command. Throw yourself from the pinnacle of the temple. You will have such power that nothing can harm you. Jesus’ answer: “Do not test God.” (Remember just a few days ago this was Judith’s answer to her city’s plan to surrender to the Assyrians if God doesn’t rescue them in five days.)

Security, esteem, and power. God gives us divine security, divine love and esteem, divine power and control — on God’s terms. We are healthy when we trust God for these things. Our problems come when we exaggerate our needs for security, esteem and control, and when we set ourselves to get these things on our terms. When we are addicted enough to our exaggerated needs for security, esteem and control, we will do damaging things, we will sell out to the devil to get our needs met. We will seek to posses whatever passes for the symbols of security, esteem and power in our culture.

In our congregation’s Servant Leadership course we offer God’s antidote to our addictions: Compassion, community and co-creation.

When our deepest motivation mirrors the fundamental characteristic of Jesus — compassion — we are motivated by God’s values rather than our exaggerated selfish needs. When we see ourselves within the community of humanity rather than insisting that the world revolve around our own individuality, we act with proper focus for the common good. When we join in God’s work of reconciliation, peace and justice, we share in the Creator’s purpose and power.

These same issues play out in our other two readings.

In an extreme condition of insecurity and threat, Judith tells the leaders not to put God to the test, but to trust God completely. Then she devises a plan to act for the good of her community and aligns herself to God in trust. She is enabled to act boldly.

Paul faces threats and challenges daily as he works with the community in Ephesus, building up their faith and their spirit for two years. His power, which comes from God, is authentic power. He brings healing to those who are sick and coherence to those who are oppressed. We see his authentic power contrasted with the magic tricks of the exorcists who know only the form and not the substance of Jesus.

We live in a culture that is tempted by false gods selling greed and selfishness, prejudice, and power for the price of abandoning our essential values as a peaceful, loving people of compassion, extending hospitality in order to create a society that works for liberty and justice for all.

We live in a time where fear and anger seek to bring out the worst in us — selfishness, tribalism, and aggression.

The temptations of the wilderness cry for our allegiance. They tell us to be afraid for our security and to protect ourselves with greed and violence. They tell us to be arrogant and selfish and to raise up our own kind at the expense of others — glory is ours and will not be shared. They tell us to exercise power in narrow, tribalistic ways and not take responsibility to pay for the powers we exercise. It is an ugly and dangerous time. Jesus help us.

Our stories from scripture tell us to put our trust in God. Our security, esteem and power comes from God, not from our self-centered ways. We find life when we live with compassion, in community, joining God’s work of healing, reconciliation, liberation and economic justice. It’s either God’s agenda or the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. Whose side will we be on?

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